Between forging new diplomatic relationships with Egypt and Tunisia and managing the US response to ongoing strife in Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya, and Syria, you might say that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has her hands full. But don’t tell that to the women of Saudi Arabia. Hot on the heels of the Arab Spring, they’re pushing Clinton to speak up for their right—not to vote or to overthrow the government, but to drive.
Over 10,000 people in the US have signed an open letter calling on Clinton to publicly support giving Saudi women have the right to drive. The campaign, which is spearheaded by Change.org, was spurred on by the plight of Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman who was arrested for driving and subsequently dubbed the “Saudi Rosa Parks.” The letter-writers are calling for Saudi women to protest by taking to the roads en masse on June 17.
From the letter:
Saudi Arabia, one of the strongest and longest standing US allies in the Middle East, is also the only country on earth where women are not allowed to drive, or even ride a bicycle, often dubbed ‘the world’s largest women’s prison’. As Saudi women our lack of freedom of movement places an extreme burden on our lives. We lack a public transportation system and the most basic errands and medical appointments are missed due to the difficulty and expenses of arranging transportation, notwithstanding educational and work opportunities. Many from our religious establishment openly state that the reason they prohibit women from driving is to keep women at home and in need of men. Our lack of this basic right to drive our own cars has been repeatedly exploited by abusive fathers, brothers, husbands and even hired drivers. Just this week a Saudi woman reported she was raped by her driver.
And the letter makes a direct pitch to Clinton:
We write to ask that you make a public statement supporting Saudi women’s right to drive. We do not make this request lightly, but we believe that you making a public statement of support for Saudi Arabia opening the country’s roads to women would be a game changing moment.
Secretary Clinton, you are a friend. Indeed, some of us have met you personally during your decades-long journey as a champion of women’s rights all over the world. Now, as we build the largest Saudi women’s protest movement in decades, we need your help.
So far, the Saudi monarchy has managed to fortify itself against the revolutionary tide that’s threatening entrenched regimes across the region. If, come June 17, its women drivers pull off their bold, potentially game-changing display of civil disobedience, everyone—including Clinton, a champion of women’s rights—will have to stand up and take notice.